The UFC returns to FX Friday with an exciting lineup from the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, NJ.
In the main event, a pair of top-10 lightweights with their sights set on championship gold will clash as Gray Maynard meets Clay Guida in a five-round barnburner.
Here’s a full breakdown of the card:
MAIN CARD (on FX)
Gray Maynard (10-1-1) vs. Clay Guida (29-12)
In a critical lightweight showdown between two top title contenders, the former two-time title challenger Maynard tries to rebound from his first professional loss when he tangles with the durable fan favorite Guida.
Maynard, 33, is coming off a forth-round knockout loss against former champion Frankie Edgar this past October, the first setback of his career. The former three-time NCAA Division I All-American standout recently left his longtime home at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas to join San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy, home to the likes of Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, Jon Fitch and Josh Thomson.
A native of Phoenix, Ariz., Maynard has utilized an outstanding wrestling base to defeat top opponents in the 155-pound class, including Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz, Roger Huerta, Jim Miller and Edgar.
Maynard’s transformation into a capable striker has been impressive as he nearly became the first man to finish Edgar in their second encounter at UFC 125. It has also been well-documented that Maynard spent time in Brazil helping featherweight king Jose Aldo prepare for his fight with Chad Mendes this past January. Aldo is unquestionably one of the most dynamic strikers in mixed martial arts, and the time spent with Maynard will likely prove mutually beneficial.
Guida, 30, last saw action this past November, dropping a one-sided decision to current lightweight titleholder Benson Henderson. The loss snapped Guida’s impressive four-fight winning streak, which included names like Anthony Pettis, Takanori Gomi and Rafael dos Anjos, adding to an already impressive string of victims such as Nate Diaz, Mac Danzig and Marcus Aurelio.
A product of Greg Jackson’s New Mexico-based camp, Guida has evolved tremendously since his UFC debut in October 2006. The energetic crowd pleaser has struggled with superior strikers and submission artists, but he’s a force to be reckoned with when he puts all his weapons together effectively.
Guida’s primary asset would also be his wrestling base, which could turn this fight into a kickboxing affair if both men can neutralize one another’s wrestling. The latter proposition will likely favor Maynard, whose technique is superior and punching power nearly put Edgar out on multiple occasions.
Guida also pushes a frantic pace, and while Maynard has been known to have stellar conditioning, he showed signs of fading in his title fights with Edgar. Guida is also very underrated when it comes to the submission game as he has forced 15 of his 29 career victims to tap out. Maynard was submitted by Diaz during the fifth season of "The Ultimate Fighter" in a bout that doesn’t count on his professional record, but he later avenged the loss in the UFC, winning a razor-thin decision.
Interestingly, Maynard’s camp filed a protest and for the first time ever, Guida will be required to braid his wild hair.
This is an evenly matched affair, but many of the X-factors tend to favor Maynard, who seems to be in the prime of his career. If he can force Guida to fight a technical fight, while landing key takedowns when it matters most, he will earn the hard-fought judges decision after five action-packed rounds.
Verdict: Maynard via decision
Sam Stout (17-7) vs. Spencer Fisher (24-8)
In an exciting rubber match to settle the score five years since they last did battle in the Octagon, the Canadian kickboxer Stout meets the hardened veteran Fisher.
The 28-year-old Stout has emerged victorious in four of his last six UFC bouts. Most recently, the pupil of late striking coach Shawn Tompkins dropped a disappointing decision to Thiago Tavares in January.
A fan favorite with superb technical striking, Stout has been a UFC fighter since March 2006, amassing marquee wins over the likes of Matt Wiman, Joe Lauzon and Yves Edwards. The London, Ont., native edged Fisher in their first encounter at UFC 58, but he would later drop a unanimous decision in their June 2007 rematch.
The 36-year-old Fisher has spent the bulk of his career training in Iowa with Pat Miletich. A highly experienced southpaw with skills in all facets of the game, Fisher has earned key UFC wins over Thiago Alves, Aaron Riley, Jeremy Stephens, Caol Uno and Wiman.
Unlike Stout, Fisher has had a tougher time in the Octagon as of late, losing four of his last five fights, including an August 2011 TKO loss to Tavares and decisions against Ross Pearson and Dennis Siver, both of whom have since dropped to featherweight.
With youth and athleticism on his side, Stout will need to technically pick apart the North Carolina native with carefully picked shots. Conversely, Fisher will need to push the pace and get in close to do damage.
UFC commentator Joe Rogan’s assessment of Stout is quite accurate in that his offense is effective, but highly predictable. If Stout can surprise Fisher with an occasional takedown, he should firmly secure the nod.
Fisher has already hinted at the possibility that this may be his last professional fight, while Stout has yet to reach his full potential. The Canadian should enjoy a standout performance as he batters Fisher over the course of 15 minutes in a thrilling rubber match, earning a well-deserved decision.
Verdict: Stout via decision
Brian Ebersole (49-14-1) vs. T.J. Waldburger (15-6)
In welterweight action, the 64-fight veteran Ebersole battles the submission specialist Waldburger.
Ebersole, 31, has a remarkable amount of experience for a fighter his age and he’s unbeaten since joining the UFC in February 2011, earning wins over Chris Lytle, Dennis Hallman and Claude Patrick. A former NCAA Division I wrestler, the Australia-based Indiana native is schooled in all areas of the game and is able to absorb astounding damage.
A fan of professional wrestling, the charismatic veteran also likes to entertain fans with tactics such as shaving an arrow into his chest hair, which he has since billed "The Hairrow," as well as utilizing unorthodox kicks to start fights.
Waldubrger, 24, is a bright prospect fighting out of Grapplers Lair in Texas. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt is 3-1 in the UFC with victories over David Mitchell, Mike Stumpf and Jake Hecht and a knockout loss to current top contender Johny Hendricks.
The young Southern grappler achieved success on regional shows before entering the UFC, defeating the likes of Brian Foster, Pete Spratt and Pat Healy.
Ebersole possesses excellent submission defense and will likely have the edge if the fight stays upright. He’s also the superior wrestler and should have his way with Waldburger in the clinch. If Ebersole can rough up his younger opponent and secure a dominant position on the mat, he will look to unload with bombs to finish the fight in resounding fashion.
Verdict: Ebersole via TKO, Round 2
Ross Pearson (13-5) vs. Cub Swanson (16-5)
Kicking off the UFC on FX main card is a featherweight encounter between "The Ultimate Fighter: US vs. UK" winner Pearson and the longtime WEC contender Swanson.
The 27-year-old Pearson has recently appeared in many headlines, but, unfortunately, it’s had nothing to do with his fighting abilities. The British Team Rough House standout was recently arrested for driving under the influence in Las Vegas.
A black belt in takewondo and a brown belt in judo, Pearson will be looking to put his demons behind him with a strong showing against the very tough Swanson.
The 28-year-old Swanson earned his biggest win in recent memory this past January, knocking out kickboxer George Roop in spectacular fashion. A member of Greg Jackson’s team in New Mexico, Swanson is benefiting from being surrounding by elite-level training partners. The Californian will be looking to build on his record that already includes wins over Charlie Valencia, Micah Miller, Donny Walker, Hiroyuki Takaya and Mackens Semerzier.
Swanson is a true scrapper with a great chin, but Pearson was already a threat in the lightweight division. He’s hoping his recent drop to 145 pounds will make him a title contender. Pearson will get the better of key striking and grappling exchanges, prevailing in a competitive decision.
Verdict: Pearson via decision
PRELIMINARY CARD (on FUEL TV)
Hatsu Hioki (26-4-2) vs. Ricardo Lamas (11-2)
In a fight headlining the Fuel TV prelims — and quite possibly the most important fight on the whole card — the Japanese warrior Hioki, a man widely regarded as the No. 2 featherweight in the world behind Jose Aldo, takes a pivotal test against the emerging contender Lamas.
Hioki, 28, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and one of the elite submission practitioners in mixed martial arts, was offered a title shot against Aldo, but he turned it down in favor of one more fight to gain critical experience in the Octagon after a long career in Japan.
In a testament to how seriously he’s taking his career since joining the UFC, the Alive team member has spent time at Montreal’s Tristar Gym, honing his abilities under Firas Zahabi and working with the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald, Kenny Florian and Miguel Torres.
The former TKO, Shooto and Sengoku featherweight kingpin is 2-0 since his UFC debut, outpointing George Roop in a closer-than-anticipated decision at UFC 137 before completely dominating Bart Palaszewski this past February. A sublime submission magician with technical kickboxing prowess, Hioki holds notable wins over Mark Hominick, Jeff Curran, Rumina Sato, Masanori Kanehara and Marlon Sandro.
Lamas, 30, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt under Daniel Valverde, is also unbeaten since the UFC absorbed the WEC roster with back-to-back stoppages of Matt Grice and Cub Swanson. A native of Chicago, Ill., the fighter of Cuban-Mexican heritage can put a screeching halt to Hioki’s momentum by pulling off the big upset on Friday night.
Lamas’ key to winning this fight could be to fall back on his wrestling base, where he earned All-American honors as an NCAA Division III wrestler. He’s a capable submission artist, but his ground game will be no match for Hioki. Lamas has also improved his striking game, but Hioki should have the edge there as well.
If Hioki can sprawl effectively and fight up to his potential, he should have his way with Lamas over the course of three rounds, cruising to a convincing unanimous decision win and firmly positioning himself as the No. 1 contender at 145 pounds.